Wednesday, August 04, 2010

On depicting religion in fiction

Recent fiction I've been reading/watching has included religion as part of the plot.  Typically, the religious leaders are shown to be greedy and willfuly deceptive, while the "true believers" are simply woefully ignorant suckers. I'm of two minds about this (which, when you're a brain in a jar, is tricky at best):

First of all, the religions usually depicted as fraudulent are, in fact, phony religions, and as a follower of Jesus, I would expect this to be the case. Additionally, sometimes the church is personified in fiction by its worst proponents. As a lover of truth, I like that. Evil shouldn't be allowed to continue, simply because it wears the guise of faith.


It also seems that when these fake, oppressive religions turn up in plots, there is no alternative to it but utter atheism. In other words, the author(s) seem to be saying, "All religions/faiths are like this phony one I've cooked up here." And, in some cases, knowing the authors, that is exactly what they mean. Of course, if I had only had negative experiences with faith, I might be more accepting of this approach.

What do you think? Is no religion in fiction better than negative depictions of it?

Your comments welcome.


HMSnow said...

Two minds in one jar does sound rather crowded. You have my sympathy. (Will the real Brain please step-- er, squelch-- forward?)

Those who depict religion in fiction do tend toward extremes-- the extreme negative that you've mentioned AND the equally disadvantageous extreme you would find in the field of earnest Christian inspirational fiction. If you don't know what I mean, it's the kind that always ends in a conversion, always shows both the good and the evil in humanity as one-dimensional, and always leans heavily on its "message". Both the favorable and the negative depictions qualify as propaganda; neither can be recommended in good faith (no pun intended) to a friend.

I am by no means an unbiased commentator, of course. In my eyes, any piece of fiction that does not aim at quality of plot, character, dialogue, and prose isn't worth the trouble. All the more so if its main objective is to sell something... not even something I would otherwise be willing to buy.

Allen's Brain said...

Yeah. That is the other extreme, and it is also pretty nauseating.

PaperSmyth said...

I'm of two minds about this...

Aristotle once said, "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." Perhaps he was speaking for you, sir.

In any case, another wise person once said, "Everyone--trained or not--does theology, and I've received great insights from sources in a wide variety of familiarity and/or education." So, even an author who is writing what he/she thinks is not-so-theology may actually be telling us their theology.

In any case, I think Ms. Snow has hit the nail on the head.

It tickles me that those who think they are writing utter atheism often seem to leave wiggle-room for God, especially when read/watched from my perspective. And it ticks me off that some of those who claim to be proponents of Christianity are writing tripe that I can't even read without some kind of motivation, like promising myself chocolate if I finish. :0

So, for me, no, authors don't have to leave off the religion entirely. I'd prefer they leave me a little breathing room, though. Just don't let an author tell me believers are stupid covertly (by writing simplistically and calling it Christian) or overtly.